Chapter 4: Searching

Chapter 4: Searching

“I just don’t remember, Ohlen!” Ruprecht was whining now, clearly agitated and confused.

Ohlen was grateful the others had left the Dancing Deer Inn, giving him an opportunity to speak alone with Ruprecht. Ruprecht was back, yet in a sense, he was not. Since leaving the goblin lair behind, since the spiritual battle with darkness that had ejected the accursed orb from Ruprecht’s body—but nearly cost Ohlen his life and his soul—Ruprecht had said almost nothing to anyone.

He wasn’t right. Ohlen could feel it.

On the way to Bridgeton Ruprecht had trudged along behind the group, but it seemed that he followed only because he had nothing else to do. Almost as if he was biding his time. Ohlen alone had noticed the yearning that churned beneath his friend’s calm facade. Given the malignance that Ruprecht had been exposed to, and pulled violently away from, yearning was particularly perilous.

“I know, Ruprecht. I know. I was there, too. You may not remember it, but I experienced some of what you did.” Ohlen had a gift for reassuring and relaxing people.

“I’m sorry, Ohlen,” Ruprecht blurted. “It’s all just so strange, and I feel so guilty, like I did something terrible. And I don’t even remember what it was. I’m just so sorry.” He looked remorseful, like he might cry.

“It is really important for you to recognize that this was not your fault, Ruprecht. If the fault lies with anyone, it is with me. I am the one who dropped that horror and let it roll near to you,” Ohlen said soothingly. “We have to realize that what is done is done. The important thing is that we all survived, and that you are back. But, Ruprecht, “ Ohlen pressed on, “We also have to learn as much as we can from this, because I think we both know that it is not over. Whatever we encountered back there was just the tip of the rat’s tail.”

They sat silently for a long time, Ruprecht’s expression inscrutable.

Then Ohlen ventured, “Do you remember the eyes?”

“I don’t want to talk about it, Ohlen!” interrupted Ruprecht with a shout, shaking now, and sweating a little.

“Alright, Ruprecht. Alright. You listen, then, and I will share what I remember.”

Blank stare.

“The first time I touched you after you had been invaded, it was like your body turned inside out and released a viper from some fathomless abyss. It was like the darkness itself formed into a body and assaulted my psyche. X’andria says I was actually knocked back through the air about twenty feet. All I know is that I went into shock, and when I finally woke up I had to struggle to rise above a penetrating blackness that had infected me.”

Ruprecht was looking at Ohlen now, his lips slightly apart.

“I spent the rest of the time we were down there preparing for our second encounter. I prayed, I called upon the most pure and glorious powers I know, and I begged them to fortify me for battle.

“When we locked again, I met it, Ruprecht. My power allowed me to stay engaged past the initial onslaught of corporeal darkness. It talked to me, Ruprecht, it taunted me and laughed at me. It was awful.”

A small amount of spittle had begun oozing from the left corner of Ruprecht’s slack mouth.

“It promised me power, it showed me torturous scenes, it even showed me your mind and body wracked with agony. It threatened everyone we hold dear. And then … and then I asked it to take me instead. I asked for the black orb to invade my body instead of yours.”

Ohlen was sweating now, too, as the memory of the pain and struggle viscerally overcame him. Ruprecht was drooling and scowling covetously, eyebrows knit closely together.

“And it did. It swam into my brain and overtook me with a cruelty unimaginable to me now, even though I experienced it. My world was dismantled brick by brick. I fought with all my strength, but it just laughed at me. Those eyes: they mocked me, and smothered my will.

“I was almost entirely lost when something happened I cannot fully explain. This evil had decimated an entire clan of dwarves long before we arrived. On our way to find you, we stumbled upon their countless small corpses. Their spirits saved me, Ruprecht. It was amazing. It was like their martyred souls were waiting for an opportunity for vengeance, and through us, in the battle we were waging, they found their opportunity to act. They saved us both, Ruprecht.”

It was a long time before either of them spoke. This time it was Ruprecht who broke the silence. “Do you really think, Ohlen, that it’s not over?”

Ohlen did not reply. He did not like the glint in his friend’s eyes one bit.

Master was releasing him. The straps loosened. The straps were gone. He dropped to a tense low crouch.

Find them. Stop at nothing. They are sealed. Like in a coffin. They are not far. 

Hunt them. Smell them out. Tear everything apart. Bring them to Master. With astonishing speed, what was once Mordimer slid and scooted like a huge hairless dog from the dim chamber.


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